Egypt acts to stamp out Islamist attacks




Interior minister replaced in effort to tighten security after Luxor massacre

By Mark Huband in Cairo

Financial Times, 19 November 1997

Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s president, yesterday underlined the government’s determination to eradicate Islamist militant violence by promoting the head of state security to interior minister in the wake of Monday’s massacre of 57 foreigners.

Hassan al-Alfi resigned as interior minister after Mr Mubarak publicly blamed him for slack security at the tourist site where the killings took place.

Major General Habib al-Adli, the new minister, is likely to be given extensive resources to stamp out armed militants to avert a crisis in Egypt’s tourism sector. Tour operators yesterday evacuated hundreds of tourists on special flights from the southern town of Luxor where up to nine gunmen ambushed the foreigners at a 4,500-year-old temple.

Mr Mubarak yesterday toured the scene of the massacre, for which the militant Gama’a al-Islamiya organisation yesterday claimed responsibility. Mr Mubarak berated security officials at the site, telling them: “This is a tourist region, and you are telling me the police were 2km away. This is a joke.”

The Gama’a al-Islamiya yesterday threatened more attacks if the government refused to accede to its demands for the introduction of Islamic law, an end to Egypt’s diplomatic ties with Israel and the release of the group’s spiritual leader who is serving a life prison sentence in the US.

Several governments have warned tourists not to visit Luxor. The Swiss government, which has identified between 33 and 40 of the dead as being from Switzerland, has advised its nationals to stay away from Egypt. Japan has advised its nationals, 10 of whom were killed in the attack, not to visit southern Egypt. The British government, which has identified six of the dead as being from the UK, has given the same advice.

“We are not advising that British tourists leave the country, nor are we advising them not to come to Egypt.{A People should just avoid Luxor,” said the British embassy in Cairo.

Thomson, the UK’s largest tour operator, said it was flying back all 1,350 of its customers from Egypt in six flights over two days. At least three airplanes full of Swiss travellers flew to Zurich yesterday from Luxor and Aswan. Kuoni, the Swiss-based tour operator, said it would not operate tours to Luxor until the end of the year.

Deutscher Reiseburo Verband, the German trade association for tour operators, said it had received numerous cancellations. Japanese operators, also facing many cancellations, have said they will arrange alternative holidays or refund those who cancel.

Francesco Frangialli, secretary-general of the World Tourism Organisation, condemned Monday’s attack but said there was a danger that Egypt’s neighbours could be affected by an irrational sentiment that all Arab countries were unsafe. Speaking at the World Travel Market exhibition in London, Mr Frangialli said that other countries facing internal security problems, such as Sri Lanka, had been successful in limiting damage to their tourism industry. “The best way is to tell the truth and show tour operators and journalists what the reality is,” he said.

© Financial Times